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Child and adolescent psychiatry services grossly under-resourced – Ó Caoláin

21 February, 2008

Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Health and Children Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has today challenged the Government on their resourcing of mental health services following the announcement by the HSE North East that it will only accept urgent or emergency child psychiatric referrals from GPs in Cavan and Monaghan for at least the next four months when the decision will be reviewed.

"This is an alarming development and one that requires urgent address by the Minister of Health and Children. Child and adolescent psychiatry services are grossly under-resourced not only in Cavan and Monaghan but throughout the state. The suspension of all but exceptional referrals is unacceptable and demands an immediate response from the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance and from the Minister for Health and Children", stated Deputy Ó Caoláin.

The HSE Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (Cavan and Monaghan) wrote on the 12th February to all General Practitioners across Cavan and Monaghan advising that "with regret…we will only be able to accept urgent or emergency referrals" as and from last Monday, 18th February.

The service's Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Maeve Doyle explains that "the Child Psychiatry Service prioritises the assessment and treatment of children and adolescents with serious mental health problems. We are concerned to continue to provide a quality service to those children and adolescents most in need of a multidisciplinary child psychiatry service.

"The current staffing level in Child Psychiatry is as follows: We have 6.5 whole time equivalent posts for a catchment area of 120,000. That is the two counties of Cavan and Monaghan. We should have 11 clinical staff per county, i.e. 22 for Cavan/Monaghan plus 3 Secretarial staff. As you can see, we have less than 40% of the required complement of a multi-disciplinary team to service the population. This has been the case since December 2004. This situation is unlikely to change in the near future."

Dr Doyle continues: "Closing our waiting list to all but urgent or emergency referrals will afford us an opportunity to attempt to clear our current waiting list of priority cases…We will be reviewing the situation in 4 months time."

Speaking in the Dáil shortly after attending a briefing on eating disorders held by the organisation Bodywhys, Deputy Ó Caoláin raised the HSE announcement with the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance Brian Cowen TD. The Sinn Féin TD pressed Minister Cowen on the underfunding of the mental health services and asked him to provide the necessary resources to ensure the delivery of the commitments made in the government's mental health strategy document, A Vision for Change.

The Tánaiste, responding, praised the psychiatric services available in Cavan-Monaghan, saying that the counties had spearheaded care in the community. However, Minister Cowen failed to respond to Deputy Ó Caoláin's focused question on child and adolescent psychiatric services in Cavan and Monaghan and the funding of mental health services generally across the country.

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